May 13th and 14th marked a significant moment for the Tri-Port Minor Baseball Association (TMBA).
The TMBA sent its U13 baseball team, the Tri-Port Thunder, down to Chemainus to compete in a weekend tournament.
It was the first tournament this age group has ever participated in.
“Erin(team manager) got the email on Sunday and we had to give them an answer by Wednesday,” said Tri-Port Thunder Coach Ryan Handley.
The team had only been through one practice at that point, but they looked at the tournament as a learning experience where they’d be able to get some games in.
“We don’t have a league, so we rely on exhibition games up and down the island,” said Handley. “We have to travel most of the time to play.”
Handley added this is nothing new for the Thunder, as most of the players are used to a similar schedule playing rep hockey.
On Saturday morning, 12 Thunder players took the field against the Salt Spring Islanders. Right from the start the Thunder looked like a team with experience on their side, as they steamrolled their way to a huge 13-5 win.
Game twosaw the Thunder claw out a 12-7 win over the Duncan Red Sox, once again getting on the bases early and often.
“We had a few kids really step up and eat up some innings on the mound for us,” Handley said, adding due to a strict pitch count for young players, “it makes a weekend of baseball challenging.”
B.C. Baseball’s pitch count rules state any one player can only throw a daily total of 0-35 pitches without needing any rest. If you go past 35 pitches they require two nights rest.
“You really have to think strategically if a player hits 36 or over on Saturday and they become unavailable for Sunday,” said Handley. “We had kids that had never played an inning of baseball, let alone take the bump in a game.”
On Sunday morning, the Thunder played the Duncan Cubs. For the third game in a row, the Thunder’s pitching, defense and timely hitting was on display.
“They were aggressive on the bats and on the base paths,” Handley said, adding that in order for a team to be successful, “you have to take advantage of every opportunity you get, steal bases and move guys along.”
The Thunder ended up winning 12-5, and it put the team in a position to move on to the final with a win over the Ladysmith Orioles.
For the first time in four games, the Thunder found themselves behind and it didn’t sit well with the kids. “You go into this with no expectations, but these kids are competitors and with every win the expectations grew,” said Handley. “I totally understood what was going on, but you have to remind them baseball has to be fun. It’s a kids game, and even at the pro level you see guys playing pranks on each other, blowing gum bubbles and putting them on guy’s hats – they lost that playfulness for a couple innings and we had to get it back.”
Handley’s speech to the Thunder seemed to work. In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Thunder rallied with four big runs, going from down 10-3 to down 10-7, but then the time limit ran out and the game was called.
The Thunder’s comeback had fallen short.
The loss put the Tri-Port Thunder in a four way tie for second place, with tournament organizers going through scores, runs for and against. It ultimately came down to runs against per defensive inning’s played.
Handley said waiting for the announcement was nerve racking, but when the officials appeared from their room it was announced that the Tri-Port Thunder would play Chemainus in the finals.
“I smiled at the announcement because the boys earned it, but it felt kind of surreal as it was not expected,” said Handley.
With only David Klatt and William Grant unavailable to pitch in the final, Handley knew the Thunder had some great options on the mound going into the final game of the tournament against Chemainus.
“I was worried about our pitching going into the weekend, we only had four or five kids who had pitched last year and really only three of them had any experience under their belt,” said Handley, adding that while a lot of the Thunder players didn’t really have a lot of pitching experience, they still impressed him by helping the team reach the tournament final.
Griffin Handley ended up getting the start in the final, as he had not thrown a single pitch up to that point, so his arm was well rested.
The Thunder jumped out to an early lead, scoring two first inning runs. Grant belted a double into right center which scored leadoff hitter Griffin Handley and Klatt. After that, the strong pitching of Chemainus would start to shut down the Thunder’s offense.
“They had two kids who play rep ball and are fireballers on the mound,” said Handley. “Our boys hung in there, but we just ran out of gas.”
The game ended 12-2 for Chemainus.
Handley said he could see the dissapointment on the player’s faces as they walked off the field at the end of the game, but he was quick to remind them how proud he was of how hard they had played all weekend.
“For our boys to come down here and grab a silver medal against teams that have been playing for weeks was a tremendous achievement, they didn’t lose gold – they won silver.”
The team not only won silver medals, but they were also given the most Sportsmanlike team award, which was testament to their class and hardwork.
“I could not be more proud of these 12 kids,” said Handley. “They put us on the map and turned a lot of heads down there.”
Keep reading the Gazette for more on the Tri-Port Thunder’s season.
The Thunder’s next two exhibition games are in Comox on May 28.